The Forgotten Leader

In chapter 40 of Genesis we read of Joseph in prison.

He’s in prison because he’s been falsely accused of sleeping with the wife of Egypt’s 2IC (second in charge). But chapter 40 tells the story of Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker, who are also in prison with Joseph, having dreams that need to be interpreted.

Joseph seems to have risen to prominence, even within the prison walls, as he is tasked with looking after these two men. Having shared their dreams with him the cupbearer and baker ask Joseph to interpret them, which he does. When Joseph interprets positively for the cupbearer he asks him to remember him and speak highly of him to the Pharaoh. When these things happen the cupbearer is released and finds himself back in favour with Pharaoh.

The final verse of the chapter reads,

“Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.”

This sparked a thought about how we often forget those who play a significant role in our lives.

The Forgotten Leader Post

We all tell ourselves a certain narrative of the way things are, of what has happened in our lives. We are able to remember significant things, turning points, and people in our lives. But then, there are all those people we have forgotten, people who may have only had a small part in our lives at some point.

When we think about our own walk with Jesus we often have key people who are part of that journey. We might remember a youth pastor, or a youth leader that connected with us regularly, or maybe someone older in the church who asked how we were every now and then. Sometimes though we forget those other people who were around and part of the ministry; they don’t seem to play a role in our narrative.

This is often what it is to be a youth leader. It is often the case that we can be forgotten.

We become a forgotten leader. 

The forgotten leader isn’t any less significant. I often think it is better to be the forgotten leader than the one who goes down in a blaze of glory, remembered for all the wrong things they did.

The forgotten leader is someone who serves without expecting to be needed in years to come. They serve in the youth ministry (or any other for that matter) week in and week out. They continue to grow in their relationship with God, and students come and go through the programs with the forgotten leader faithfully serving.

This kind of leadership is certainly not what our culture expects. We want youth leaders that are flashy, that are bold, that are magnetic. But often these kinds of leaders don’t last long. Soon enough they’ve had their fill and move on to another place where a new set of people will attach themselves to them.

A forgotten leader is someone who is counter-cultural and at their heart a servant. They get on with the job of connecting with God and connecting with students, doing the task they have been given for that season. Their work often goes unseen, they help with setup and are often packing up well after the parents have picked up their children.

A forgotten leader is a servant leader; doing the one-percenters make the ministry work and being faithful to do what God has asked them to do. In this way the forgotten leader lowers themselves, not seeking first place, but highlights others before themselves.

When Joseph is forgotten by the cupbearer he was performing the task that God had asked him. The issue isn’t that he was forgotten, it’s about how he was faithful to God.

May you be a forgotten-faithful leader this year.

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3 Ways The Beach Helps Youth Ministry

The beach is great.

If it was a choice between a warm beach location or say a cold snowy type location, the beach wins every time.

And so with summer holidays and hot days comes the annual visit to the beach. A few days spent relaxing, reading, and having a rollicking time with the family. Last year I spent hours making an awesome sandcastle with my daughter, this year it seems we’re more adventurous and have ventured into the cooler waters and waves.

Oddly enough, the beach had me thinking about youth ministry. Perhaps it was the salt water, the days off, or too much cricket watching (can that ever be the case?). Nevertheless, using the beach as an illustration for youth ministry it reminded me of three things we youth leaders need to have in mind coming into the 2018 youthmin year.

First, we need perspective. 

Sitting on the beach gives you a view of the large expanse of water in front of you. It gives you a view of stretches of sand, to your left and right. It reminds you that there is something bigger than your small self going on in this world. As one person sitting on a small patch of sand, millions of grains within arms reach, you are given perspective on life, faith, and ministry.

As Psalm 139:7-10 reminds us, God is huge. He is everywhere.

“Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.”

In youth ministry we often need perspective. It’s not about the next event, the next catch-up, the next Bible study, the next service, the next hard conversation. It is about God, and declaring that he has come, and is with us through his Son and his Spirit. He will lead and hold us, as the Psalmist has written.

Second, we need grit. 

Generally sand is quite gritty. On some beaches it really does give your feet a good workout.

Youth ministry is the same. It is a hard work. It is constant work. It requires grit. It is the type of work that will give you a good workout, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

Paul knows this from experience and writes in 2 Corinthians 6:3-10:

“We are not giving anyone an occasion for offense, so that the ministry will not be blamed. Instead, as God’s ministers, we commend ourselves in everything: by great endurance, by afflictions, by hardships, by difficulties, by beatings, by imprisonments, by riots, by labors, by sleepless nights, by times of hunger, by purity, by knowledge, by patience, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God; through weapons of righteousness for the right hand and the left, through glory and dishonor, through slander and good report; regarded as deceivers, yet true; as unknown, yet recognized; as dying, yet see—we live; as being disciplined, yet not killed; as grieving, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet enriching many; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

It might be a different context but Paul’s words speak of the kind of grit needed for ministry. The physical persecution is not generally associated with Western youth ministry, but that doesn’t discount the challenges it brings.

All this requires grit. It’s goes without saying that this grit will come more easily when we are walking closely with Jesus. As we work with students and their families we seek to serve them and the church out of our enjoyment of God.

Third, we need to be fluid. 

At the beach you can sit on the sand and watch the waves come time and time again. You can also go for a swim and enjoy the cool water on a hot day. Stating the obvious, the water is fluid and can cope with what is going on in it and around it.

When working with students (and adults too) we need to be flexible, fluid. Often things won’t go to plan, people won’t turn up, or the weather might not be what we’d hoped for our program. In working with people, and in youth ministry, we need to be flexible in our plans and ideas. It’s helpful to know and be sure in what we think is the best way to operate, but sometimes others might actually provide better ways.

So whether it’s events or people, holding things losely, having planned to our best ability is something worth evaluating for ourselves coming into the new youthmin year.

At any time, not just at the start of the year, it is worth taking a few moments to gain perspective, grow in grit, and assess what we hold tightly. I can recommend the beach as a good place to do that.

My One Blogging Goal For 2018

With the turn of the new year comes the flurry of posts about how to improve your blogging in 2018. I think I’ve read a dozen or so already.

It’s made me think about my own blogging for the year ahead.

My One Blogging Goal For 2018

There is no doubt that I enjoy the writing process. It clarifies my thoughts, it helps me think out loud, it gives me the opportunity to express my opinions and ideas. Depending on what kind of day it is the writing will come easily, but more often than not it is hard. It requires actually articulating my thoughts in a systematic or structured way. Writing requires me to sit in front of a blank screen and turn that white document into something worth reading.

I’m not sure I achieve this very often, but it seems people do read what I write. I am appreciative of that.

And I’m particularly thankful for those who have read the odd post over the last 12 months. I’ve had a focus to increase readership and write more regularly, which was achieved, even if there were seasons where nothing was published.

But they were last year’s goals. And having read enough “Improve Your Blog” type posts it is apparently important to have goals coming into 2018.

For the coming year I have reservations about setting number goals about readership. It keeps me focussed on numbers, which at the best of times are encouraging but totally distracting and beside the point at the worst. So for 2018, instead of focussing on the statistics, which get looked at far too often, I have decided to make my goal writing-based.

That is, I want to write from the heart more this year. 

Reflecting on my own writing I don’t believe I write from the heart enough. Sure, I may have a post that moves someone else. I may have a good piece of writing that connects with a reader. But am I actually writing from the heart?

To me, writing from the heart is about putting words on paper that reflect more of who I am.

It isn’t giving more of my opinion, it isn’t making the post feel more energetic with faux-excitement. Writing from the heart is about writing truthfully, clearly, and with an openness that leaves part of me on the page. It means I’m not hiding behind words but I’m putting myself on the line when I write and publish.

While this goal isn’t particularly measurable, certainly not from the outside, it may cause me issues when seeking to evaluate come the end of the year. But that’s my issue. For now I’m committed to writing through this blog, seeking to help others in youth and young adult ministry reflect on their experience and be better in their work.

Let’s see how we go.

What about you? What’s your number one blogging goal for the year? 

Is It Time To Take The Guilt Out Of Your Bible Reading?

I suspect, every year, thousands of people give up on their attempted bible reading plan because they’ve fallen so far behind they don’t believe they’ll ever catch up, and they feel guilty about it.

You know the situation, I’m sure. You start off the new year with a plan to follow. You’re aiming to achieve what seems like the impossible–finish the whole bible in one year. But by the time the third week of January comes to a close you find yourself three days behind, the equivalent of 12-15 chapters to catch up on. The doubt about actually doing this in the first place creeps in. The guilt of not doing what you said you’d do piles up. And suddenly you find yourself questioning whether your relationship with God is actually where you thought it was.

Is It Time To Take The Guilt Out Of Your Bible Reading_

From a young age, in church or in a Christian home, we are taught that reading the bible and praying are simply parts of the Christian identity and rhythm. I’m not going to disagree with that. I think the bible itself speaks of the need to read God’s words and be active in prayer with him. This is vital to any relationship with God.

When God gives Moses his words in Exodus 24 there is the understanding that his people are to respond and obey it. Then as part of the words God gives Moses, in Deuteronomy 6:4-9, there is the command to have them on repeat.

“Listen, Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Bind them as a sign on your hand and let them be a symbol on your forehead. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your city gates.”

A bible reading habit is about having God’s words on repeat.

Yet, while this is vital, helpful, and beneficial for us as believers we often feel guilty if we skip a day or fall too far back on a bible reading plan.

The point of a bible reading plan is not to make us feel guilty.

It’s to help us in our worship of God. It is to help us hear from him.

It is to help us understand the story we are part of.

It is to help us know more of our identity as the people of God.

When we do fall behind in our bible reading our response doesn’t need to be guilt. We aren’t saved or made right with God because of our bible reading. We are made right with God because of what Jesus has done. The Good News. Instead, when we do fall behind, we just continue reading where we were up to.

You see, there are no explicit rules around reading the bible. No one is restricting or demanding or making it a law to read a certain part or certain amount of the bible. The important thing is to read it. If you read a verse or read a whole book, whatever it is, the aim is to read it.

I was talking with someone a month or two ago who had a 100-day streak in their bible reading. Things then came up and they didn’t do it for about a week. Instead of just picking it up from where they left off, they gave up. They felt they were too far behind that they couldn’t catch up. Therefore, they didn’t see much of a point to continue reading.

But that’s not the point!

It’s an awesome achievement to read 100 days in a row, but the point isn’t how many days in a row you can read your bible. There’s no competition going on (unless it’s self-imposed, and that’ll probably raise questions around ‘heart’). It’s about connecting and engaging with God through his words. The point is that reading the bible is helpful for our relationship and understanding and worship of God. It’s vital.

I like bible reading plans because they actual help me work through scripture systematically. They help me have a goal and show me where I’m going. But at the end of the day they are just that, a plan. If I didn’t have a plan then I reckon I’d be flip-flopping through the bible and never really achieve anything in my reading. Instead, a plan gives structure in my bible reading and shows me what I have actually read.

I’d always encourage a bible reading plan to anyone (this one is a good one). What I wouldn’t encourage is feeling guilty about not meeting someone else’s bible reading requirements. Read what you can, work through a plan at your own pace, and worship God in the process.

Make The Bible Project Your Bible Reading Plan For 2018

If you’re a Christian who likes to make New Year’s resolutions then I suspect you may have the classic, “Read the Bible in a year” on the list.

Maybe.

As is my usual practice, I commit to this goal on January 1 and often come up short by the time I’m halfway through Leviticus. What’s that, mid-February?

Maybe you have the same issue as I do.

LP-BibleProject

Some suggest that the definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result”. That might not be its true definition but it can often be the experience of those of us who have the goal to read the whole bible and don’t achieve it, year after year after year. And it is not a bad goal–to read all 66 books of the bible in a year. In fact, it is a SMART goal. It’s specific, measurable, achievable, results-focussed and time-bound. SMART.

This year, rather than advocating for the Glenn McGrath approach to bible reading, I’ve come across The Bible Project’s ‘Read Scripture’ plan. This plan includes videos and other good resources to help people read and understand the scriptures as a whole. I often watch The Bible Project videos and listen to their podcast and find them extremely helpful in understanding the bible as a unified whole. They seek to tell the stories of the bible in fresh ways, and bring a wealth of knowledge and help in understanding and interpreting the scriptures.

As part of their ‘Read Scripture’ plan they have produced an app, which incorporates their videos and selected readings for each day of the year. If you’re like me, and enjoying ticking off what you’ve read each day then you also have the option of downloading the readings as a PDF to stick into your bible.

Good luck with any of your New Year’s resolutions, whatever they might be. But may I encourage you to think about attempting the ‘read scripture’ plan and have a go at reading the whole bible in a year.

My Top Posts of 2017

Earlier this month I wrote briefly about how I’ve managed to achieve a couple of blogging goals this year. I wanted to write more regularly in 2017, and as a result I’ve averaged a published post per week on this site and a few guest posts on others. The second goal was to increase the amount of views from last year. I aimed to double last years result and achieved this too. Happy days.

Top Posts of 2017

But, there are a few things that continue to get read reasonably regularly so here’s a list of the five most popular posts viewed this year (2016 and 2015).

One, 11 Things: The Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor Relationship

It seems there’s a few people out there wanting some tips on how to deal with the Senior Pastor-Youth Pastor dynamic. It’s not surprising, it’s probably the number one reason Youth Pastors move on from their job.

Two, Growing Young – Keychain Leadership

I wrote this over twelve months ago. I was working through the book Growing Young. This post talks about how churches need to be willing to pass the baton of leadership to young people. It is a key chapter in the book and worth reading entirely.

Three, Growing Young

Here I begin the Growing Young series, which I wrote over a period of three months. I write about each chapter, but this one gives a general summary of the whole. Again, it’s a book for those in youth ministry and church leadership (and others if they’re interested).

Four, Beginning As A Youth Pastor: 11 Things I Wished I Knew

I wrote this in preparation for a presentation. It describes what I wished I knew when I started out as a Youth Pastor. As it turns out I had 11 points, and those 11 points were then made into a blog post each. This series has already been mentioned with the number one most popular post on the site. This one covers them all.

Five, On Youth Pastor Position Descriptions

I saw a really poorly written position description for a youth ministry position and I got annoyed. This resulted in further articulation of my thoughts in this post. It seems it was reasonably well read and rather relevant to people. Not really many surprises there if you’re a Youth Pastor.

Some other random bits of information about this blog:

  • The top five countries where readers are from are Australia, the USA, the UK, Canada and New Zealand. Australia and the US bring in the most by far.
  • Facebook and search engines are the digital spaces people come from to read.
  • I currently have over 200 posts available for people to read.

If you’re a regular reader, thanks very much for coming by. I am always in two minds as whether or not keeping this up is worth it. When I get to the end of the year and begin to re-evaluate my goals there is something about giving this up that I would find painful. I hope the words written here are worthy of being read, fun and humourous at times, and most of all bringing glory to God as I write about youth ministry.

Thanks again.

My Top Books of 2017

The end of another year is the perfect time for pretentious bloggers to write their list of top reads for the year. Armed with the arrogance of knowing they’ve read more books than most of their friends, and willing to share that information publicly, puts them in a category everyone despises. Nevertheless, I’ve done it for the last three years (2014, 2015, 2016) so why not continue to reveal my own pride and let you all know what I’ve read and how much.

Here goes.

My Top Books of 2017

Because any reader worth their salt is signed up to Goodreads, which enables readers to reveal and recommend books to their friends, there is an automatic graphic created to show just what I’ve read. If you’re interested in that then feel free to have a look. The following is a list of books I’ve rated 5 out of 5 from the 27 I’ve read this year. They are in no particular order.

I couldn’t have kicked off the year with a better book. It was all about how we relate to God. Since reading the book I have found it hard to explain his idea of being ‘with’ God but it was very true and very life giving. It’s pretty much the idea that we aren’t relating to God through Christ in a way which means we are ‘over’ God, or ‘under’ God, per se. It is really trying to say that through our lives we are walking with Jesus, we are WITH God and God is WITH us. There’s a relationship thing going on. It’s a brilliant book and I’d highly recommend it. It’s become a main text for my apprenticeship program next year, it’s that good.

Peterson writes really well. Everything I’ve read of his has been great. This is no exception. Here Peterson articulates the story of his life and ministry. He doesn’t do it all in a chronological and normative fashion. However, there is much in here to listen to and chew on.

I’ve written previously about this book and have found it very stimulating. It’s mainly about how the church can be the church in a post-modern, post-Christian, post-everything culture. And, how Christians can be Christians in a post-everything culture. From the other books I’ve read of his I’ve found this to be his best one. This books has also made it into the hands of a few at church, which is pleasing. But as I’ve commented to them, it’s constantly full of ideas and points one wants to discuss with others. It’s really good.

I took my time reading this but was very impressed with how Keller holds social justice and his evangelical convictions so well. I’m not sure why I’m surprised through, evangelical Christians have been doing good works for centuries. Anyway, Keller articulates the biblical mandate of justice and uses the odd example to show how this might work out in a church context. He elevates this well and by the end you know this is a no-brainer. Big tick.

Just as the Australia plebiscite was in full swing I read this book. It was brilliant. I’m not even sure it matters that the writer is gay. He articulates a terrific theology of friendship, elevating the need for friendship into a status close to marriage. There is the thought of commitment ceremonies for friends, and not in a gay marriage kind of way, but in a way that highlights the need for friends to commit to one-another. It is a book that makes you think about how your church helps singles, couples, and marrieds be better friends to one-another. It’s certainly worth the read. I wrote a few more words about it here.

This is a small yet powerful book. For Christians it should be obvious that discipling others is part of what it is to be a believer. Here Dever outlines a terrific way in how to do that in the Western church and is something I believe strongly in. As I’ve written previously:

“The obvious case for making disciples is made and then the ‘how-to’s’ are provided. Because I’ve read a lot of Dever, and this kind of discipleship, then I understand how to go about it. For those who are unsure this is a good primer and will provide the foundations and the practical. It’s really as easy as meeting with someone, opening the bible with them, and simply talking and listening to one-another. This should really be a standard text for anyone wishing to disciple/mentor/coach or whatever you want to call it. If I was running an internship or ministry apprenticeship this would be on my reading list.”

I wrote a review of this book separately and outlined how many of Roos’ leadership principles relate to youth ministry. Read that for more worthwhile content.

This book follows Paul Roos’ playing days, and particularly his successful coaching career. It’s a great read if you like sports biography, AFL, or leadership.

  • Lion by Saroo Brierley

This is the true story of Saroo, who at the age of five is separated from his family in India. After jumping on a train, believing it will take him back to his family, he is lost in one of the largest and busiest cities in the world. The story is amazing, and I won’t spoil the ending. But, it’s the book made into a movie a couple of years ago. Great story. Inspiring stuff.

I finished this book a couple of weeks ago and there is much to recommend about it. It’s all about youth ministry, which isn’t a surprise given its title. But, it goes into depth about the ins and out of what youth ministry is about. It talks about the culture of youth ministries and how churches are always looking for the short-term, quick fix. Instead, the author is advocating for long-term, strategic and sustainable youth ministries focussed with intention and structure. DeVries has had many years of experience in youth ministry, mainly at one church but then with an organisation that consults to other youth ministries and churches. I found it one of the better youth ministry books I’ve read. It probably makes my top 5 (youth ministry books). I have some quotes from this book in a previous post. Excellent.

Sustainable Youth Ministry, Quotes

I’m currently reading Sustainable Youth Ministry by Mark DeVries. It’s a book published in 2008 and I can’t actually believe I haven’t read it yet. Anyway, while it’s been resting on my shelf since last Christmas I thought it worth bringing it out at years end. At the 70 page mark I can certainly tell it’s a zinger, with a number of challenging quotes and comments. Here are three that have stood out to me thus far.

From page 13:

“The short-term, high-number, razzle-dazzle, success of your current youth ministry might blind you to the fact that success in youth ministry is measured in decades, not in year-to-date comparisons with last year’s mediocre youth staffer who, quite honestly, just didn’t have your gifts.”

From Thomas G. Bandy quoted on page 16:

“The declining church always assumes that the solution to youth ministry is programmatic. If only they could get a good leader! If only they could find a great curriculum! If only they could renovate a room in the building for youth meetings! They fail to recognise that the solutions to youth ministry, like the solution to decline in general, is systematic.”

Quoting Roland Martinson on page 29:

“The history of primary calling inexperienced and inadequately trained young people to do youth ministry reflects the myth that youth ministry is a beginner’s job that doesn’t require much education, experience or skill. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Youth ministry is one of the most demanding ministries–so demanding and frustrating that many pastors and congregational leaders don’t know what to do.”

Achieving Blogging Goals

Today I achieved my main blogging goals for the year.

It’s a day to celebrate! 

At the start of the year I set myself two main goals to achieve by the end of 2017.

Achieving Blogging Goals.png

First, I wanted to write and post more often. Making sure I could achieve this meant I needed to make it specific and measurable. The goal was to average a post a week by the end of the year. This is now my 58th post. I achieved this goal with when I posted about freedom.

Second, I wanted to have double the amount of views this year than I did in 2016. Last year I had 2,567 views. Today I tipped over 5,134! This is awesome news, and very pleasing for all the work I end up putting into this site.

So, it is a day to celebrate.

I can tick off two major goals I sought to achieve at the start of the year. It didn’t come easy. There were times when I didn’t think I’d make it. The regular writing, editing, and posting takes more time than I’d like to admit. But, with intentional focus this year it seems to have worked.

More people are reading my stuff, which often blows me away–that people actually take time to read what I write and occasionally comment. And, for a personal blog that is targeted at quite a niche topic it’s certainly on the improve.

So, here’s to achieving goals!

(Let’s not talk about new goals for 2018 just yet)

 

Published: What are the Top 5 Books of The Bible You Want Your Students to Read?

So, I’m in a few Facebook groups full of youth pastors and youth ministry practitioners. Someone asked this question of the group and numerous responses came through. I thought about it for a few minutes and jumped in myself. I then made a blog post out of it. It was then published on Rooted Ministry.

“Keep in mind, these aren’t necessarily my five favourite books of the bible. These are what I see as the most helpful pieces of scripture for my students, when it comes to communicating the gospel. It’s an interesting question. You may love Jeremiah, and Amos, and Revelation. Great. Are they in the top five for helping your students understand more of the grace of God and seeking to love and follow Him? Maybe they are.

Of course, no answer is a right answer, but let me outline why I think these are the top five for my students.”

You can read the whole post here.